Haute Couture and know-how (III): The embroideries of Lesage

Consisting of embroiderers taught from father to son, Lesage has been a supplier to the great names in fashion since 1924. Owned by Chanel today, the embroidery workshop continued to grow by founding its own school in 1992. What a discovery!

Without haute couture, Atelier Lesage would not have continued to exist. Its last heir, François Lesage who died in December 2011, decided to sell the House to Chanel and its subsidiary Paraffection dedicated to the artistic profession in 2002, “In order to retain and keep in France the know-how that is essential to haute couture, as well as to luxury ready-to-wear,” indicated Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel President of Fashion at the time.

Haute Couture and know-how (III): The embroideries of Lesage

THE House of Houses

Whilst Chanel is now the principal client of Atelier Lesage, producing 6 annual shows, the latter also collaborates with the greatest names in fashion. It was François Lesage himself who, when he became head of the business in 1949 (at the age of 20), succeeded in winning new clients, even though the House was the preferred supplier of Elsa Schiaparelli. Pierre Balmain, Cristobal Balenciaga, Jacques Fath, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent all praised the know-how and creativity of the young man. They were followed by Christian Lacroix, Valentino, Louis Vuitton and most recently Bouchra Jarrar and Alexandre Vauthier, Maxime Simoëns and Mary Katrantzou. The embroidery of Lesage transforms all materials into jewels.

Innovate to develop

The secret of the fashion studios is innovation. Challenges have been embraced since the beginning of their history, with the takeover in 1924. Albert and Marie-Louise Lesage took over the business of the embroiderer Michonet, which was founded in 1858. At that time Marie-Louise was the assistant in charge of embroidery at Madeleine Vionnet. Together with her husband, she decided to innovate and to employ new techniques. Using vermicelli straight grain, a system of “shading” which gives faded, burnt or dampened tints, the house of Lesage swiftly gained a reputation for its avant-garde patterns. It produced for Elsa Schiaparelli (then the great rival of Coco Chanel) embroideries on themes of the circus, signs of the Zodiac and shellfish. However it was not until 1982 that Chanel called upon the talents of Lesage. It was Karl Lagerfeld who threw down the challenge to François, saying, “Look at Mademoiselle’s folding screens. I want embroideries like that,” placing an order just 15 days from the presentation of his first collection for Chanel.

Haute Couture and know-how (III): The embroideries of Lesage

The House of the 60s

Featuring archives which have held the largest collection of high-fashion embroideries in the world since 1858 and with extraordinary supplies, Atelier Lesage is also nicknamed “the House of the 60s”. The name came about because the workshop elves (80 percent of them women) have the choice of 60,000 samples of embroidery and 60 tons of ribbons, pearls, rhinestones and tassels and decorative pins selected over the centuries. Also, each year the House enriches its precious heritage with a hundred or so new embroideries (30 kilos of pearls and 100 million sequins are used every year!) carried out with a needle or Lunéville embroidery hook.

School of passion

Concerned at seeing his know-how disappear, François Lesage founded his own school in 1992. Since it opened, more than 400 students from the four corners of the world, including amateurs and professionals, head to 13 Rue de la Grange Batelière (Paris 9th District) each year, the historic address of the House. There they are taught by the embroiderers of the House and are initiated into the art of embroidery for six hours, or they prepare for double specialisation that is acquired after 300 hours of work (Certificate of Professional Qualification in Design and Embroidery).

Photos : ©Lesage


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